Appeals Court Spares Southwest Airlines Lawyers From Religious Liberty Training

Southwest Airlines fired a flight attendant who sent graphic anti-abortion messages to their union President on Facebook after the union spent employee funds to attend the pro-choice Women’s March in 2017. A jury, which saw emails of union officials mocking the woman, found that the airline and union violated her rights.

The original verdict was knocked down from $5.1 million to $910,000. Southwest was ordered to tell flight attendants that federal law requires that they “not discriminate against Southwest flight attendants for their religious practices and beliefs.”

  • The airline did not follow the judge’s order, instead saying that it “does not discriminate.”

  • Southwest was held in contempt, and the judge ordered 3 lawyers to complete 8 hours of religious liberty compliance training offered by the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom.

To comply with the judgment, Southwest reinstated Carter, posted the verdict and judgment in all flight-attendant breakrooms, and emailed all flight attendants the verdict and judgment. The email stated that “a federal court in Dallas entered a judgment against Southwest” and “ordered us to inform you that Southwest does not discriminate against our Employees for their religious practices and beliefs.” Southwest also published an internal memo stating that Southwest believed Carter’s messages were “inappropriate, harassing, and offensive,” “extremely graphic,” and “in violation of several Company policies.” The memo further stated that, although Southwest would implement the judgment, Southwest was “extremely disappointed with the court’s ruling and [was] appealing the decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

Carter moved the district court to hold Southwest in contempt, arguing that these communications—the email and memo—violated the judgment. Carter contended that the email violated the judgment because it said that Southwest “does not discriminate” rather than “may not discriminate,” which was the language the court’s order required. As for the memo, Carter claimed that it demonstrated that Southwest could continue to discriminate against flight attendants’ religious beliefs and practices. The district court agreed that Southwest had violated the notice requirement and therefore held Southwest in contempt. As contempt sanctions, the district court directed Southwest to circulate a statement—verbatim—to its flight attendants “to set the record straight” and ordered three of Southwest’s in-house lawyers to attend religious-liberty training…

In a per curiam ruling of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the district court judge’s order sending Southwest Airlines lawyers to religious liberty school has been stayed – and the analysis in the order makes clear that it will not be reimposed – because it exceeded the lower court’s civil contempt authority.

The Fifth Circuit decision notes that the eight hours of religious liberty training that was ordered by the district court would not have been limited to the Title VII issues at hand, but would also have included other topics including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and First Amendment which are unrelated to securing compliance with this Title VII judgment.

(HT: Eugene Volokh)

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Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. If you practice religion in 2024, you’re a nutcase. Religion is what holds society back from basic human rights, like a woman’s right to an abortion, or the right of people to marry the person they love.

    Religion is for low class morons. Religion may have been a source of comfort thousands of years ago when science and philosophy weren’t as far along. In modern times there is no reason to practice a religion.

  2. “the judge ordered 3 lawyers to complete 8 hours of religious liberty compliance training”

    Tell me the lunatics are running the asylum without telling me the lunatics are running the asylum.

  3. @ High class professional

    Isaiah 5:20
    20 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.

    It is clearly evil to kill babies whether they are in or out of the womb – and pointing that out as this employee did to someone forcibly taking their money and supporting abortion – does not justify being fired.

    Your defense of that clearly aligns you with the forces of evil. And whether you believe it or not (due to purposely closing off your eyes and heart to the truth) their THE God of the universe.

    Isaiah 40:26 – “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”

    Psalm 19:1-4 – “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

  4. I’m not religious at all but think those who actively disparage it are the real nut cases. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs.

  5. @ Carl,

    Interesting you start from a position that it is universal or natural law that abortion is evil while none of your referenced verses actually say so.

    There is nothing in the bible that says abortion is a sin. In fact, Numbers 5 gives the Israelites – yes, Israelites, not Americans, unless you for whatever reason believe in replacement theology – a recipe for inducing abortion. Ergo…yahweh is evil?

    I’m all ok with people practicing religion. Don’t impose it on those who don’t want to. You want to keep government out of the church but are ok with imposing church on the government. Yet the Constitution clearly states there is freedom of religion, and that include freedom FROM religion. Keep that stuff out of the government and the workplace

  6. @Carl: you don’t win debates by quoting bible verses to prove relion is factual.

    @cairns: your comment makes no sense. Ok, I understand you don’t care for disparaging religion or believers to prove a point but you can’t turn around and do the same to non-beleivers. .

  7. Ray made you should read my comment again. I didn’t disparage non-believers- I disparaged those that actively disparage believers (like the low class non professional who first commented). Big difference.

  8. @Low Class Amateur

    So bold of you to say that online anonymously. Tell me again how that relates at all to murdering fetuses? I think the practice of chopping off a viable fetuses head is abhorrent, yet I’m an atheist.
    Weird. Now, aren’t you late for a pro-Hamas rally? Maybe tell Hamas about your beliefs on religion.

    Personally, I think anyone who describes themselves as “high class” is a nutcase, and most definitely a trash person on the low end of the IQ scale. You prove my theory every time you post.

  9. @High Class –Humans like religion. Right now, Jesus religion is trending down, but Mother Earth worship — currently in favor among “high class” people like yourself — is trending up. If you thought about it a bit more, you’d notice the remarkable similarities between the two. Humans don’t change much, but their religions evolve.

  10. I tend to agree with High Class Professional, but different strokes for different folks.
    And it’s always great to hear that attorneys are ordered to take any compliance training.

  11. Cool down!

    This lawsuit had absolutely nothing to do with religion but against discrimination.

    The US holds very dearly the right of freedom of worship and when big companies trample on the individual they need to be told off.

    But this goes for any discrimination, whether its race, religion, gender or who knows what. When the big ones go against basic respect they deserve to be put in their place.

  12. Hittin the politics hard today, are we?
    Travel is our escape from the madness of a chaotic world.

  13. Everyone is entitled to their beliefs, even the bigots. ADF thinks that gay people shouldn’t have equal rights (unless you define equal rights absurdly narrowly, like “everyone, even gay people, can marry someone of the opposite sex” and “everyone, even gay people, are subject to denial of public accommodation because of their sexual orientation”). That their anti-gay bigotry stems from honestly-held religious beliefs should not absolve them from being labeled anti-gay bigots. And the notion of the government (in the form of a federal judge) ordering people to receive ‘training” of any sort from ADF is repugnant.

  14. Just because your message is religious doesn’t make it automatically acceptable. Sending such a message on a work system is inappropriate, period.

    (And, besides, the idea that Christianity opposes abortion is a pretty new thing. The Bible clearly sees the fetus as property, not as a person. Look at what the punishment is for accidentally causing a miscarriage vs accidentally killing the woman.)

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